With the distraction of the federal election behind us, Catholics will turn their minds to the introduction of the New English Translation of the Mass, which, according to present indications, will not be without some controversy.
The introduction of this translation, and a growing proliferation of ‘do-it-yourself’ liturgies where, in many cases, services in the absence of the priest have been entrusted to ill-prepared laity, it is time to have a good look at our Eucharistic worship. One of the clear indicators of its state will always be our attitude towards the Real Presence.
One might well ask: 'Has the reality of Christ’s Presence nowadays been downgraded or lost because of disputes about words, Church politics, marketplace Churches, or the uninformed role of the laity?
It would be absolutely contradictory if the Eucharist, which symbolises the unity of the Church, served as a catalyst for disunity.
The Church’s faith in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine dates to Jesus’ discourse after the multiplication of the loaves addressed in St John’s Gospel (6:22-71):
'I am the bread of life … I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world'. (Jn 6:48, 51)
St John tells us that the reaction of the crowd was so strong that many disciples went away. The loyal disciples, although the teaching was something beyond their personal experience, gave their assent to Christ’s words because they recognised Jesus to be the Holy One of God.
There are many presences of Christ in His Church, but His Eucharistic Presence is unique. He is present with the Church in a special way as she believes, prays, and does works of mercy. He is with His ministers who preach God’s Word, teach His people and administer His other sacraments.
But the presence of Jesus, which is brought about in the Mass, has special claim to the description ‘Real Presence’ not because the other types of presence are not real, but because it is ‘Presence’ in the ‘fullest sense’. (MF n. 39)
The other six sacraments are rites in which the faithful encounter Christ in His action and power, only the Eucharist is Jesus Christ.
We are dealing with a supernatural mystery here, for the person who becomes fully present in the Mass is the same Risen Saviour Who is seated at the right hand of the Father.
In becoming the ‘Presence’ on the altar Christ’s condition does not change. He does not have to leave heaven to become present on earth. Jesus is here, present not merely spiritually, but in a unique way, whole and entire, God and man, substantially and permanently.
After the change of substance or nature of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ nothing remains of the bread and wine but the appearances under which Christ, whole and entire, in His physical reality is bodily present.
There is no doubt that we should show this most Holy Sacrament the worship that is due to the true God as has always been the custom in the Catholic Church.
Nor is the Presence to be adored any the less because it was instituted by Christ to be eaten, for even in the Reserved Sacrament He is to be adored because He is substantially present there through the conversion of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood, which is most aptly named Transubstantiation.
Therefore, the message of the Eucharist should be considered in all its fullness, not only in the celebration of Mass, but also in devotion to the Sacred Species, which remain after Mass and are ‘reserved’ to extend the grace of the sacrifice.
Hence, the need to be always aware of Christ present in the tabernacle, which demands proper respect for, and consciousness of, God in our midst – liturgical minutiae should always be secondary.
Kevin Manning is emeritus Bishop of Parramatta.
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